The video GM’s guide continues, this time without an accompanying Iron Fang Invasion video. My grandmother’s funeral landed direct on the day we usually record that, which means there isn’t one from that week. It turns out there are some occasions that can interrupt my usually impeccable schedule. Anyway, today in the GM’s guide we’re talking about stealth encounters, something which really would’ve benefited from actually relevant video footage, which I did not have time to record and do not happen to have lying around from my regular games.
Today in the video GM’s guide, we discuss combat encounters, and the actual video part of the video creeps towards being relevant. Not particularly close, mind you, but closer than it was before.
In Iron Fang Invasion, the party scouts out the Hollow Hills in a string of random encounters that Paizo apparently thinks are thrilling. In fairness to them, these encounters might serve a pacing purpose for parties who didn’t turn the cheat codes on and make all encounters trivial.
What with how successful my professional GMing has been, experiments in my GMing videos like this one can take so much time that there’s none left to record something in the normal style if I decide I like the new stuff even less. So this is what you get this week: An off-script, even more poorly edited example that probably needed another half-dozen takes and will probably get covered much better in a fully scripted video two weeks from now.
In Iron Fang Invasion, Thorgrim gets in touch with his inner rock and the party kills two castles. Neither of them have anything really to do with the hobgoblins, but I’m sure that’ll sort itself out in the meantime.
Video three of the GM’s Guide is up, in which I have figured out how to adjust volume in Lightworks so that things are no longer ridiculously quiet all the time. Why is the default so low?
And also a new episode of Iron Fang Invasion, in which our “heroes” face a setback while chasing down the leader of the hobgoblin hunters searching for their
terror cell heroic rebellion.
If I’ve done my job right, there will be an actual, working video here once this post live.
As usual, I recommend the written form of the guide over the video form (even if the video is working properly) because I’m good at writing and formatting words but bad at voice acting and editing video, but I’m offering the video version for people who strongly prefer to listen/watch instead of read. I hope it’s not too rubbish in this medium.
There is also more Iron Fang Invasion:
I’ll level with you, I’m pretty much only making video versions of this guide because I think it’ll catch a wider audience. You can get the written version in the upper right, and it’s generally the superior version. If nothing else, I’m better at writing than voice acting.
On a related note, I now offer GM services for if you want a GM, and I offer them at much lower rates than normal to help establish a reputation. As little as $5 a session right now. Details in the link.
Long time readers of this blog do not exist, but if they did they would remember that GM’s guide I produced a while back. It is now a Gitbook and thus infinitely more navigable.
Building Sphere of Influence Campaigns
A sphere of influence is a form of empire-building used in ancient Greece and the modern day whereby the imperial capital uses economic dependence, military alliance, and/or influence over the leadership of outlying territories to exert control without directly administering those territories. For example, Daggerford’s entire economy is based on trade with Waterdeep. If Waterdeep cuts that trade off, Daggerford will collapse. Waterdeep would lose the valuable link to Baldur’s Gate and Cormyr, but would be able to keep itself afloat off its trade with Neverwinter, Luruar, across Anauroch to the Moonsea and Cormanthor, and all along the Sword Coast using its port. This economic asymmetry means that Waterdeep has a lot of influence over Daggerford, and can make Daggerford do almost anything. Daggerford will do whatever Waterdeep says unless their relationship gets so bad that Daggerford would rather be destroyed if it meant they could spite Waterdeep on the way out.
Daggerford isn’t the only town in this position with Waterdeep. The Dessarin Valley, Triboar, Secomber, and others besides are similarly dependent. On top of that, all the Lord’s Alliance, covering the bulk of the Sword Coast and a few places beyond, have a military alliance with Waterdeep, which means they’d all like to keep Waterdeep happy enough with them to continue that alliance. Waterdeep doesn’t have nearly as much influence over them as it does over Daggerford, but it has some influence. Luruar has much stronger military ties between its cities, with Silverymoon effectively governing the other cities by virtue of the others being dependent upon Luruar for military support, even though their economy is independent by way of trade with the nearby dwarven strongholds of Felbarr, Adbar, and Mithral Hall. Zhentarim Keep, back before the Netherese razed it, controlled many Moonsea cities via planting infiltrators throughout the government such that the leaders answered to their hidden conspiracy even though the cities were all nominally independent. Economic dependence, military dependence, personal loyalty of the leadership, these are what make a sphere of influence.
Alright, so poli-sci 101 aside, why do we care? We care because a sphere of influence campaign allows for players to take over the world without doing an awful lot of mass battles. In a sphere of influence, players are more concerned with things like clearing ancient mines overrun by monsters that contain valuable treasures (the mines, not the monsters) in order to secure an economic treaty with towns in the area, winning the personal loyalty of the king of the next kingdom over by saving his kidnapped daughter from a dragon, and killing the champions of a rival power so that they can no longer guarantee the safety of an important border town, thus forcing the government of that town to turn to you for help or else be overrun by a horde of orcs headed their way (and also subsequently defeating that horde of orcs).
With the exception of the parenthetical, none of these are major battles, but all of them expand the section of the map that players control, and that’s a sphere of influence campaign in a nutshell. It has the advantage of being extremely flexible. Since you’re not occupying any territory, you don’t need an unbroken supply line to your territory which means you can jump all over the map as the mood suits you. Standalone adventures, whether published adventures or ones you made for earlier campaigns, can be slotted in wherever, and so long as the plot has serious implications for the military, economic, or political landscape of the area it takes place in (very likely), you can come up with a sphere of influence-related plot hook and you’re golden.
Building Military Campaigns
As you might expect, a military campaign involves a lot of mass combats. Although mysteries, dungeon crawls, and wilderness adventures all come up occasionally, mass combats will be the plurality, if not the majority, of a military campaign. As such, this is a campaign type for people who like to fight major wars and build large empires almost exclusively. For those who like world domination but also want to be closer to the action and/or roleplay more often (not to say that military campaigns are devoid of roleplay, but it does become more rare as the amount of combat skyrockets), a sphere of influence campaign might work better.
A mass combat game divides the world up into a few dozen territories. Each territory has an army attached to it, which is usually at least six or seven individual units. Big enough that you could fight a mass combat with it if you had to, but small enough that you’d rather not. Some territories, densely populated and wealthy ones, might support a much bigger number of units in their army. For example, Waterdeep has a huge population and plenty of money, so their army holds something like twenty units. On the other hand, some territories are sparsely populated and contain relatively few units in their army. Icewind Dale, for example, might have as few as four units in their army. Each army can do basically two things: It can move, or it can replenish itself.
An intrigue campaign revolves around a web of relationships within a council (which can be a king’s court, or a senate, or a college of cardinals, or any other group of a relatively small number of very powerful people). This council has de facto (if not de jure) control over an organization much too powerful for the party to influence directly, the generic example being a king and his council having control over a kingdom that commands armies and resources much greater than the party could possibly contend with. The king technically has final say over everything, but he doesn’t want to upset his powerful dukes or alienate his vital ministers, or he might find himself the target of a coup or even just commanding a lame duck court that performs all tasks ineptly because they despise the person they work for and cannot be fired. As such, even though the king has de jure power to do anything he wants, he is de facto more like the head of an aristocratic legislature than an undisputed monarch. He probably has veto and tie-breaking authority, but he isn’t all-powerful.
In order to control the kingdom (whether there are specific policies they want implemented or they just want to force the king to abdicate the throne to them or what) the party must control the council, and to do that, they must master both the favor economy and the relationships the councillors have to one another and their courtiers.